What do you know about Sudan? Until recently, most in the West would likely have said, “That’s the little African country that the U.S. attacked with cruise missiles during the Clinton administration.”
And that is partly true. The United States destroyed what it said was a nerve gas manufacturing plant in Khartoum, Sudan’s capital, in August 1998. (Sudan maintains to this day that it was a pharmaceutical plant.)
But Sudan is not a little country. It is the largest nation in Africa, about 25 percent of the size of the continental United States. The Nile River traverses it from north to south, and all of this mighty river’s tributaries are partially or entirely within Sudan.
Its extensive borders touch Egypt, Libya, Chad, the Central African Republic, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Uganda, Kenya, Ethiopia and Eritrea. It even has 500 miles of coastline on the Red Sea. Its eastern boundary is not far from the new base of the U.S. Combined Joint Task Force in Djibouti, from which counterterrorism in the Horn of Africa is coordinated.
In January of this year, the world suddenly took notice of Sudan, when 100,000 refugees poured into neighboring Chad. While the world news seems taken up with Iraq, Sudanese continue to die at a rate of 10,000 per month. U.S. officials warn that even with the massive international relief effort underway, hundreds of thousands more will die.
The U.S. Congress declared the matter genocide. So, why doesn’t the international community stop the slaughter? Ah, now we begin to step into the complexities. The UN’s World Food Program says the death rate “isn’t actually genocide,” and the UN has appointed a commission to study whether that term should be used. This all seems to be so much “fiddling while Rome burns.”
The ethnic and religious face of Sudan
The principal ethnic groups are black (52 percent) and Arab (39 percent). Seventy percent are Sunni Muslim (many blacks are Muslims), and they live mostly in the north. Twenty-five percent practice pagan African religions and 5 percent are Christian.
The nation is extremely poor. Only about 7 percent of its land is arable, but approximately 80 percent of its workforce toils in agriculture, mostly in the southern states. With its debt equaling nearly 90 percent of its GDP, Sudan faces staggering economic problems.
The Darfur region lies in the north and west, populated by non-Arab and Arab nomadic tribes. As a further illustration of the complexity of the situation, over 90 different tribes inhabit the region!
Drought is a perpetual threat. When it hits, the nomads migrate south to find water for their livestock. The southern farmers do not appreciate this, but they have lived with it for generations. Whenever there was a dispute, the elders of the tribes got together and worked matters out.
Two major things have changed. Khartoum did away with the tribal justice system and required complainants to go through government bureaucrats. And the drought has lasted so long that thousands of nomads have taken up more or less permanent locations around the shrinking waterholes of the south. So the nomads and farmers have been in constant conflict.
Completely separate from this crisis, for the past 22 years the north and south have fought a bloody civil war, which killed 2 million and displaced another 4 million people—mostly from the non-Muslim south.
Like so many African nations, Sudan was once part of the British Empire and gained independence in the 1950s. Today Sudan’s law is part British and part Islamic. The government has a facade of democracy, but it actually is a dictatorial alliance of the military and the (Islamic) National Congress Party.
Since 1983, the government has tried to impose sharia (Islamic) law on the entire country. The south has resisted vigorously, and fought bitterly for more of a say in the government.
The divisions are principally Muslim versus non-Muslim. Even though Muslims are the majority, some of them claim that they are the ones whose existence is threatened.
A journalist told of an imam who was addressing a group of about 200 Islamic men. In fiery passion, the cleric warned all to be ready to join a jihad against forces seeking to destroy all Muslims. As he finished, all drew their daggers and thrust them skyward with an angry shout of unity.
In the past two years, various facilitators, including the United States and the European Union, have helped the warring factions work toward peace. Until Darfur, it looked like the civil war would come to an end soon.
Haven for terrorists
The 1990s brought another factor to the equation. The combination of Muslim fervor and extreme poverty made Sudan a ripe recruiting ground and a safe haven for Islamic terrorists. ABC News once offered this simple profile of a terrorist: Someone with nothing to lose. Many thousands of young Sudanese men could be so described.
The last three U.S. administrations designated Sudan a state sponsor of terrorism. When Saudi Arabia expelled Osama bin Laden in 1991, he went to Sudan, where the United States believes he trained terrorists, plotted terrorist attacks and made weapons—perhaps chemical ones. Under U.S. and Saudi pressure, Sudan expelled him in 1994, but the United States still lists Sudan as a state that sponsors terrorism. Just last month, the United States froze $143 million in assets of a Sudan-based charity that was intended for terrorism.
At the same time, Sudan has been cooperating in some ways with international efforts against terror. However, because of its continuing ties to terrorism, the United States does not trade with Sudan.
The spark that ignited Darfur
In August 2003, another dynamic exploded itself on the country—literally. A small rebel group attacked an airport in El Fasher, a city in Darfur, shooting up five military planes and two helicopter gunships and killing 100 people.
This began the cascade of deadly events.
Khartoum desperately wanted to convey to the world that it was at long last becoming a stable nation, so it wanted the Darfur uprising quashed—and fast. A few thousand troops could easily have rounded up the poorly organized and poorly armed rebels, but the government turned instead to Arab militias for help.
There are numerous small Arab tribes in the north, each with its own private army or militia. To Khartoum, it was simple. The Arab Muslim tribes were natural enemies of the rebels. But the Arabs were also the natural enemies of the peaceful non-Muslim Darfurians. Instead of merely fighting the people responsible for the attack on the airport, the Arab militias began shooting everything that moved.
They burned villages to the ground, stole whatever property they wanted and systematically raped women and girls, utterly terrorizing the peaceful citizens.
Khartoum had unleashed a monster. Yet the government officially denies authorizing the pillaging. For their part, the Arab militias innocently protest that they are only patriots responding to their government’s cry for help.
Immediately, the non-Arab people of Darfur began to flee for their lives. When Khartoum could no longer hide the crisis from the outside world, it relaxed its tight restrictions on relief workers entering the country. When the humanitarians came, they found huge numbers of displaced Darfurians wandering within Sudan.
At first, the relief workers did not fathom what was happening. One said, “These are the happiest I.D.P.’s [internally displaced persons] that I have ever seen.” They thought that the situation therefore couldn’t be as bad as some were claiming. But it soon became clear that the “happiness” of the refugees was simply relief at the sight of foreigners. The refugees believed that the Arab militias would now stop killing them.
When relief workers asked the fleeing Darfurians who was terrorizing them, they replied, “Janjaweed.” Not the name of any ethnic group, it is instead their epithet for bandits or highwaymen; it means, “devils on horseback.”
In time, the horrifying size of the crisis began to take on definition. There are between 1 and 2 million homeless Darfurians in Sudan, in addition to those who fled the country. And they have been starving to death by the thousands.
Khartoum argues that the Darfurians can safely return home anytime, and it refuses to disarm Arab militias, saying that not all of them are Janjaweed. (It doesn’t want to alienate this powerful group.) Yet the Arab militias continue their raping and pillaging. And the survivors are so terrorized that they are telling relief workers they will never be willing to return to their home regions.
Many wonder why the United Nations doesn’t impose sanctions on Khartoum to force it to stop the killing and the rampaging. It would likely be blocked from doing so by China, which has let it be known that it would veto a Security Council resolution.
Sudan still officially denies the catastrophe is as bad as the Western press says it is. Libya, Egypt, Nigeria and Chad released a joint statement in October, standing by Sudan and flatly rejecting any “foreign intervention.”
Career Africanist John Prendergast says Sudan has two choices: cooperation or intransigence. It needs to cooperate with the peace negotiated with its southern population, with international relief organizations and with counterterrorism efforts.
But how can the 1 to 1.5 million Darfurian refugees ever feel safe enough to return to live among Arab tribes that raped and murdered their families? And what of the 4 million displaced by the civil war? All is complicated by the fact that the unforgiving drought continues.
If Khartoum continues to be stubborn, Prendergast warns that the civil war will resume and spread to more fronts, with the south declaring independence. Since most of the nation’s oil and natural gas reserves are in the south, Khartoum and its Arab/Muslim allies aren’t going to let it slip away easily.
North Africa will likely figure prominently in the merging of nations into a perfect storm of international conflict. See The Middle East in Bible Prophecy for details of this aspect of the situation.
Sudan’s largest supplier and its largest buyer is China, with its burgeoning appetite for petroleum products. Another large trading partner is the European Union, which is steadily increasing its influence in world affairs. We believe that both China and the European Union will play major roles in end-time prophecies, as our booklet The Book of Revelation Unveiled explains.
The United States likely will be a loser no matter what it does. Some will criticize it for “overstating the crisis” for political reasons. Others will criticize it for not doing enough to stop the genocide. And the United States fears it will lose in a much more important area: It believes that al-Qaeda is now aggressively recruiting in the Sahel region of which southern Sudan is a part.
So, the situation appears to defy any human solution—but help will come from another source. The prophet Amos wrote: “ ‘Behold, the days are coming,’ says the LORD, ‘When the plowman shall overtake the reaper, and the treader of grapes him who sows seed; the mountains shall drip with sweet wine, and all the hills shall flow with it’ ” (Amos 9:13 Amos 9:13Behold, the days come, said the LORD, that the plowman shall overtake the reaper, and the treader of grapes him that sows seed; and the mountains shall drop sweet wine, and all the hills shall melt.
American King James Version×).
If you read this promise in context, you will find that it is speaking of the Messiah restoring the land of Israel. But God is not a God of the Israelites alone. Christ isn’t returning to bless only Jews or Christians. He is coming to bring blessings and peace to the entire world. What God promises for Israel shows the way that He will bless all mankind, when it turns to Him for help.
In that not-too-distant future, Christ will end the disastrous drought cycle, bringing needed rain to Sudan. Further, “He shall judge between the nations, and rebuke many people [correct those who need it]; they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks [they will voluntarily fashion their weapons into productive agricultural implements]; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war anymore” (Isaiah 2:4 Isaiah 2:4And he shall judge among the nations, and shall rebuke many people: and they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks: nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more.
American King James Version×).
You may recognize this prophecy as the one on the statue that sits in front of the UN’s New York headquarters. The United Nations cannot bring it to pass, but the One who inspired it can—and will. WNP